Putting Education Reform To The Test

What Administrative Costs Say About School District Spending

Matt Stiles / NPR

Darker red districts spend more per student on administration, lighter red district less. Click on the photo for our interactive map.

There is no bigger target for school criticism than what districts spend on administrative staff and other overhead.

Joe Taxpayer wants to cry “waste!” when he sees a bunch of bureaucrats bringing down six figures at his expense.

The Florida Department of Education knows this, and so they have been adding up how much it costs each district to oversee state funds for students.

The numbers are not an absolute ranking of the most- and least-efficient school districts in the state. In general, small, rural districts spend more per student than large, urban districts such as Orange County or Miami-Dade County.

Urban schools likely benefit from economies of scale — the more students you add, the less each additional student costs.

But the list does allow comparisons among similar districts.

For instance, the list caused a dust-up in Manatee County, which had higher administrative costs than 41 other Florida districts.

Manatee school officials say there’s a reason for that: They prefer smaller schools, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune which are more manageable but require more money for administration.

Orange County schools topped the list with a per student cost of $441.88. Franklin County — with just 926 students — had the highest cost in the state at $1,707.49 per student.

Among the large districts, Duval County and Hillsborough County schools spent the most per student.

Other observations:

Even as budgets shrink, 21 districts spent less per student in administrative costs during the 2010-2011 school year than they did the previous year.

Martin County schools led the way. That district spent $137.37 less per student on administration than the previous year — a difference of $2.4 million.

Check out interactive map here. What else do you notice?


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